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Guest editorial: Father’s Christmas surprise helps son better understand God

By Gary Fenton
Retired pastor and chair of TAB board of directors

Leonard was a good man who seemed unnecessarily stern to his two sons. He loved his wife and children, but his sons did not always feel loved. Leonard was neither diplomatic nor tactful, and his rules seemed unfair.

One December was particularly difficult for Leonard and his family.

Living in the Midwest, an early winter snowstorm kept Leonard from working at his hourly construction job.

As Christmas approached, Leonard hoped he would be able to work a few days before the holiday. But a second snowstorm on Dec. 18 postponed outdoor construction work until the first of the year.

Unable to work, Leonard was home with his sons while his wife worked part time at a small laundry.

Unexpected gifts

Two days before Christmas, Leonard uncharacteristically asked his younger son if he would like to put on his snow boots and go for a walk.

Leonard’s youngest son was excited, but also suspicious. A walk with his father usually turned into work.

As they left the house, Leonard’s youngest son asked, “Where are we going?”

Throwing a soft snowball at his youngest son, Leonard smiled and said, “You will see.”

Leonard playfully threw more snowballs, and his youngest son did as well.

It was unusual for the father to throw snowballs. In his world snow was shoveled, not thrown.

Leonard and his youngest son’s walk ended at a five-and-dime store. On this day, Leonard went into the store with his youngest son.

Leonard opened his wallet and said, “This Christmas will be different for our family. I have not been able to work, and your mother is working part time. This is all the money I have. Let’s purchase three gifts: one for your mother, one for your brother and one for you.”

The boy realized his father was not exaggerating about this being all the money he had.

They quickly picked gifts for his mother and brother, but Leonard’s youngest was more deliberate in choosing a gift for himself. Eventually, he chose a fountain pen.

Father and son walked home together, and they wrapped the gifts and placed them under the tree with a note that said, “From Dad.”

Christmas day had no surprises for Leonard’s youngest son as he knew what he was getting.

But now that Leonard’s youngest son is a father and grandfather, it is his favorite Christmas memory from childhood. It helped him better understand his father.

Power of sacrifice

Seeing that his father was willing to spend all he had on his family and that he could be fun, helped Leonard’s youngest son see his father in a new light.

As a child, Leonard’s son did not understand why his father seemed so stern. But as an adult, he understands his father was often trying to protect him.

That Christmas changed his understanding of his father.

Christmas — the incarnation — helps us understand our heavenly Father too.

We often think of God as being strict and stern, but this is because of His character. He is holy and knows how sin destroys us.

On Christmas, we celebrate God becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us so we could see Him differently.

God does not change, but God in flesh provides us with a portrait of God so we can better understand.

God’s generosity in sending His Son will transform your understanding of Him. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16).

This Christmas memory taught me, as Leonard’s youngest son, to have a new appreciation for my earthly father, and every Christmas teaches me about my heavenly Father’s amazing love.